Consumer demand for building work stayed strong in the three months following June’s EU Referendum result, new figures reveal.
In its latest State of Trade Survey, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) found workloads for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remained resilient following Brexit suggesting “that consumer demand – which accounts for the bulk of SME work – has held up far better than anticipated,” explains Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB.
Despite positivity in employment levels, anticipated workloads and new work enquiries the figures showed that growth slowed compared to the previous quarter.
However, “if we all agree that construction is a “weather vane” industry, and demand for home improvement and new build homes an important gauge of consumer confidence, then our results chime with the cautious positivity demonstrated across construction and the wider housing market,” explains Berry, who says construction bosses will be taking nothing for granted.
The Q3 research found the continuing skills shortage to be the greatest challenge to construction firms with Berry fearing that it is “starting to bite”.
“Growth has softened compared to the buoyant first half of the year and some parts of the UK have gone into decline.
“In particular, London is flat-lining which is concerning given that it is typically one of the strongest markets for construction SMEs.
Our feeling is that the construction skills shortage, which we know is particularly pronounced in London and the south east, is starting to bite.”
And with nearly two-thirds of SMEs struggling to hire bricklayers and 55 per cent citing difficulty in sourcing carpenters and joiners, Berry says this highlights the possibility the UK will have a less flexible workforce following Brexit.
“Given that the skills gap is only expected to grow over the next decade, it’s vital that talented tradespeople continue to come to the UK.
“For this reason, we welcome the Government’s u-turn on requiring companies to publish data on the percentage of foreign workers they employ. Such a move would send completely the wrong message to foreign workers currently living and working in the UK and those who might consider coming here.”